When Hemanth and his friend Chiranjeevi approached the police earlier with a cheating complaint against a company that had recently hired them, little did they know that they would become part of a massive mobile loan app scam with alleged links to Chinese nationals.
The two men, both in their early 30s, had put up their CVs on job recruitment sites earlier this year, and were surprised when an HR manager reached out to them with a deal that seemed too good to be true. They were offered ‘director’ posts and an assured salary with little else to do. All that was required of them was to submit their personal documents, including their Aadhaar and PAN cards. They didn’t even have to report to an office.
However, after two months of not receiving even a single rupee from their employer, the duo approached the police in November. The Central Crime Branch (CCB) police, which took charge of the case, unearthed a network of 52 companies that were allegedly fleecing customers by offering loans with high interest rates and processing fees via apps. At the helm of this network was Licorise Technology Pvt. Ltd., a firm in Munnekolala, Marathahalli, that was allegedly employing out-of-work BPO employees as loan recovery agents.
The firm was allegedly operating at many levels: offering short-term loans on various mobile applications like Cash Master and Crazy Rupees; hiring former BPO employees to work as recovery agents, and setting up benami companies in the names of employees.
The accused offered micro-loans of as little as ₹1,000 with interest rates as high as 15- 20% of the total loan amount. The interest rates were also compound on a weekly or fortnightly basis. They also charged high processing fees, almost half of the loan granted.
The apps, once installed by the borrowers, would allow access to all of their phone contacts, gallery and other sensitive information. The management ran a full-fledged ‘call centre’ with 50 to 80 employees whose job it was to convince people to download the apps and apply for a loan. By downloading the apps, clients gave them access to their contacts and other information.
So far, the CCB has announced that it has arrested Licorise Technology’s HR manager Kamaraj More, 25, and team leader Darshan Chavan, 21, for making threat calls to debtors. CCB officials refused to divulge details on the other suspects and people higher up in the firm’s management.
The call centre executives were offered salaries based on the percentage of loan recovered from clients who had downloaded the apps. “They were asked to get the dues from clients by hook or by crook using coercion, abuse and blackmail if necessary,” a police officer said.
Defaulters were humiliated in front of friends and acquaintances with messages going out that the victim had “cheated” someone. Others had their pictures morphed and shared on social media as blackmail.
Licorise allegedly floated multiple benami firms and bank accounts using documents of employees. “The accused were handling U.P. and Bihar clients from the Munnekolala office. Loan payments and other transactions were routed to multiple accounts belonging to companies like ‘Fesolovo Pvt. Ltd., Leadbolt Pvt. Ltd., and Zeter Pvt. Ltd., which Licorise had floated using Aadhaar and PAN cards of Hemanth and Chiranjeevi,” said a senior official.
Even though the bank accounts opened on their behalf showed transactions running into lakhs of rupees, the duo was informed that the companies were running into losses. The CCB uncovered 52 such firms.
The Chinese angle
When CCB Economic Offences Wing carried out a raid in November, they said that the firms had tie-ups with registered non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) for loan disbursal. “These companies did not even offer loans. They get loans granted from NBFCs, cheated customers. Any windfall was transferred out of the country to China,” said a CCB official at the time.
Another official said that the CCB was looking for the handlers who are suspected to be from China. “The accused told the police that they had been hired by a Chinese national through online interviews and were getting instructions on phones and messages,” he said.